Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Ethics of Fine Dining

I had iftar at Pearl Continental today. My first and hopefully last iftar of the year. It was as bad as I had expected. Instead of being seated in some tastefully decorated room or hall we were led to a massive air-conditioned tent draped with fairy lights and crammed full of those awful caterers chairs and tables. The usefulness of this arrangement by my estimation was that we get to enjoy an Arabian Nights meets tacky shaadi experience (complete with a man strumming a sitar in the corner) and Pearl Continental manages to squeeze in five hundred people instead of a mere fifty or hundred every evening. At Rs. 950 per head (without tax) one can just hear the money cascading into the hotel’s back accounts.

The food, it goes without saying, was insipid. What’s more is that we were evicted within two hours. People broke their fasts around eight and by a quarter to ten Pearl Continental decided that we had had enough and merrily proceeded to switch off the lights and fold the tables around us.

But hey a mediocre evening at nosebleed prices? Well that’s just Karachi.

What really incensed me was that while I was paying five-star prices for a middling experience, Pearl Continental was making even more money by shamelessly advertising to its guests. The tent walls, apart from adorning large Quranic ayats had larger and certainly more numerous banners for a whole host of products. There were, among others, banners for Dalda, ARY, SriLankan Airline, Olpers, PTCL, Turkish Airlines, Coca Cola, FM 107, Jam-e-shireen and some diabetes gizmo. Plus, all the tables had little brochures marketing Sucral. In essence, I paid over a grand so that companies could market their hearts out to me for two hours.

These days we are used to being bombarded by advertisements 24/7 but at least in most instances ads are justifiable. We usually get a free or subsidized service in exchange for being exposed to ads. Think about television channels, newspapers, websites like Google, YouTube and Facebook, even plays these days have corporate sponsors to recoup their costs. But Pearl Continental had no need for advertisement. Its motive was pure and simple greed. Yes we are increasingly becoming a consumer society but must we really put up with this kind of unbridled corporate avarice?

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